Chicava HoneyChild, burlesque artist and creative producer of New York City-based troupe, Brown Girls Burlesque feels empowered with each layer of clothing she pulls off. As a woman of color, or a "brown girl," her performance is as much a political statement as it is art.
“It’s liberating because it gives us visibility,” said HoneyChild. “We’re owning our brown skin and our sexuality and we’re putting it out there, making ourselves vulnerable for the sake of our beauty.”
Burlesque has an enduring history. The word "burlesque" means to joke, mock or trick. The first usage of the word can be traced back to the 16th and 17th centuries in describing parody routines.
But, the "striptease" element that we see now didn't become a fundamental part of burlesque performance until the 1920s and 30s. By the 1940s burlesque had begun to lose popularity, but the 1990s brought in a new wave of burlesque performers and interested audiences.
In Las Vegas’s Burlesque Hall of Fame’s exhibit, Not-So-Hidden Histories: Performers of Color in Burlesque, a project HoneyChild helped curate, women of color (Black, Asian, Latina, South Pacific Islander and Native American) “were very much a part of burlesque history, and not just as chorus girls for white headliners,” according to the exhibit. Women of color dancers weren’t copycats of white performers, but trailblazers. This tradition remains true today.
According to burlesque artist Sydney F. Lewis, “Black and brown women must be acknowledged as pioneers and integral players in the golden era of burlesque (both in front of and behind the velvet curtain) and given their proper dues for being among the first to shamelessly bump and grind. White women did not invent sexual agency.”
While neo-burlesque performers continue to pay homage to the many artists who came before them in campy, vintage-style stripteases, many are breaking the mold and experimenting with complex emotions and alternative lifestyles - and having fun doing it!
“We’re baring our souls and there’s something really beautiful about doing that,” said Chicava HoneyChild. “In a historical context, we’re told we shouldn’t talk about our own bodies and sexuality and we shouldn’t embrace these things because they are taboo.”
For her and other burlesque artists, it’s a celebration of body acceptance and body diversity.
In fact, that’s why HoneyChild began doing burlesque. “My boobs are an A-cup and I’m not what is perceived to be sexy in the mainstream,” she said. “I’m curvy, but not enough for some people. It’s important to celebrate you are, and as long as you exude that confidence that’s all that matters.”
Feathers and glitter are the most common expectations of any burlesque performance, but burlesque at it’s core embraces juxtapositions, satire and questioning sexuality and gender.
Here's a just a sampling of some of the best women of color burlesque artists and troupes from around the country. They embrace all forms of drama and narrative through seductive movement and playful tease.
New York City-based, Delysia La Chatte is a kindergarden teacher-turned self-taught burlesque artist. This particular performance is nothing short of amazing.
Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe, Brown Girls Burlesque, is a traveling ensemble of women of color who command center stage within an artistic genre that has traditionally ignored non-white women. Once you've seen them perform, you can finally say you've been vamped!
A prolific performer, NYC-based "The Maine Attraction" won the Napkin Award, for being in more laps than a napkin, at this year's New York Burlesque Festival Pastie Awards.
Minneapolis, Minnesota-based performer, Foxy Tann, began her career in 1997 and has regularly performed for sold-out audiences ever since. She's a business woman as well, selling pasties and other burlesque supplies for other artists.
Brooklyn-based artist, Dame CuchiFrita, bases her work on the subtle satires of ordinary life. She tells a multi-dimentional story through movement and music choice, which is best described as poetic.
Courtesy: Dame CuchiFrita/Marcus Schreiner
New Orleans-based artist, Perle Noire, owns the stage when she performs. She earned the "Shake is All Over Showgirl" Award at this year's New York Burlesque Festival for being the performer with the best all around shake and shimmy.
Los Angeles-based cabaret troupe, The Brown Betties, use sensual elements of burlesque and the drama of theater in their performances.
Though not a burlesque artist in the usual sense, Oakland, CA-based "Punany Poets" is about more than just sultry entertainment. Through art, music and movement, founder Jessica Holter (Ghetto Girl Blue) aims to inspire self-love and stresses the importance of safe sex and AIDS awareness.
If you know of a burlesque troupe or an individual artist who deserves a mention, please share in a comment.